We raised our glasses high and welcomed a new year that seemed ripe with possibilities. The year 2020 would be, we assumed, a year full of good things – growth, accomplishments, fulfillment and – of course- “20/20 vision”, whatever that meant. We thought we would see clearly. But what were we looking at? If you’re like most, your sights were set on things like getting a promotion, earning more money, your child getting into college or making the sports team, buying a new car, going on a vacation, doing renovations, shopping for new clothes, working out, losing weight.
But, not one of those matters right now, does it?
The global pandemic triggered by COVID-19 has brought us to our knees, both individually and collectively. We feel vulnerable and scared. How could we not? Individually, we are afraid for our own lives and for our loved ones, trying desperately to protect all that we care about. We’re fighting a battle against an invader we cannot see. We don’t know where it is or when it will strike, but the inevitability seems to be growing around us. Our sense of safety and security has been shaken and our assumptions about simple everyday life have betrayed us. The things that provided structure and purpose to our days have come to a halt, as if they vanished into thin air. And with them, so did most of what we were hoping for in 2020.
If those things don’t matter, what does?
At the same time COVID-19 has divided us, it has also managed to erase the differences, both remarkable and unremarkable, that distinguish us. Individuals, families, communities, nations and quite literally the world have simultaneously united in their focus on one thing – sustaining life. COVID-19 has no care for wealth, celebrity, culture, religion, political party, ethnicity, or race. We grieve -collectively and individually – for the unimaginable loss of life to COVID-19 and for the loss of our way of life – our loss of freedom, loss of power, loss of control, loss of certainty, loss of structure, loss of security, loss of jobs, loss of safety, loss of knowing what the future will bring. We used to need a panoramic lens to take in everything we deemed important, now we gaze through a microscope, looking for answers.
In a time like this, we are starkly reminded of our vulnerability. I have a hand-painted rock in my office that says, “Vulnerability is Strength”. I am always intrigued by the responses this gets. Some say it’s crazy because they believe vulnerability is weakness and therefore something to be overcome, hidden and avoided. That’s understandable, and pretty much what we are taught to believe. Unfortunately, it is also wrong. Vulnerability is one of the hardest things to confront. If you think being tough is hard, try sitting in your vulnerability without running. We will do almost anything to avoid feeling it, we work, exercise, eat, shop, drink, smoke, rage. Want it or not, we are all sitting in a heap of vulnerability. What does that mean? Vulnerability is truth without illusions, facades, pretending or acting – it is the messy, imperfect, beautiful, awful, unedited truth. If you have the courage and the strength to not run from it, you can use it to forge a deeper connection to yourself, to others, and to the world around you.
So, if vulnerability is good, how do we use it to come out of this crisis better, stronger, more self-aware, more grateful and more present to the people and the things we care about? I always think about the beloved character of George Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life to describe this. Like George, it is so easy to fall into the trappings of everyday life and societal measures of success. Without realizing it, we start to see only what we did not accomplish, what we do not have, what is not enough. The state of “not enough-ness”, insufficiency and dissatisfaction basically serve one purpose – to hold happiness hostage and ensure we never achieve it. Like George, for most of us it takes a crisis to change, we’re rarely granted the opportunity, necessity or approval to do this under “normal” circumstances. Something must hit so hard that it breaks through the armor, glitches the program so to speak, and startles you to awaken. Typically, those are crises that threaten something dear, often your life. Like George, we need time to sift through our beliefs and doubts and fears to find the truth.
There is a wonderful quote credited to Frances Rodman, “Just think how happy you would be if you lost everything you have right now, and then got it back”. What would happen? Would you look at them the same way? When George Bailey gets his life back, he sees only its abundance, beauty, possibility and meaning. He returns a different man, full of joy, love and gratitude. Not a single circumstance had changed, only the new and perfectly clear lens through which he saw it. He had been looking at the wrong things. His vision had been obstructed, blurred. He finally saw clearly what he cared about – family, friends, integrity, connection, generosity, kindness, commitment and faith. We laugh and cry along with George year after year because we, too, would like to see through that lens.
Well, now is your chance.
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 just gave all of us a new pair of glasses to look through. What you do with them is up to you. When this heartbreaking crisis is over, you will have two choices. You can try to make this experience go away as fast as possible and get back to the status quo or you can use this time to pause and reflect on what you have learned about how you want to live your life. Before you fill your schedule and jump back on a mindless treadmill, ask what things you want to keep from this time. What new discoveries or rediscoveries have you made? What has made you happy? What matters, what doesn’t? I suspect many organizations, businesses and entities will be racing to recapture your attention, time and resources when this is over, before you have chance to think about it. So, use this time well, because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
We may have come into 2020 with a request for clear vision, what we’ve been given is the opportunity to see clearly. That will take work, and a lot of courage. But the struggle is what will make it worthwhile and make it yours.
So then, what do you see?